It always amazes me when I realize how naive I can be. I, probably like most people, can get so wrapped up in my life and the lives of my children, that I tend to forget there is a world out there much different from mine. I suppose some of that is human nature. We need to feel isolated from trauma and from pain. We need to feel justified and we need to feel secure; it is our nature. But there is every once in a while, when I am simply put on my ass with the truth that I forgot in the misery of my own whining.
This weekend a young woman went to the hospital. She checked herself in, and waved to the nurses that were expecting her. At twenty-six, she showed no fear. A few hours later, she was induced and eventually had a beautiful little baby boy. The baby boy is healthy, with his blue eyes and brown hair. The mother is doing well and preparing to leave the hospital to begin her life as a mother.
One might guess, especially if you know me, that this isn’t the whole story. The young lady in question is a new mother, but she is also a wife. She is a wife of a soldier. She choose a life that demands that she check herself into a hospital and have a baby alone. Her husband can’t come home for the birth of his first child. Her husband can’t come home to hold her hand or wipe her brow; she is all alone. As a wife of a man who dreamt his whole life to be a soldier, she is required to accept that which others of us would walk away from. And she has never complained.
Her husband would probably give his left arm to be able to see his son. But he signed up for something that he has always felt was greater. Despite the posters and the commercials, and even the romantic thrills of movies, soldiering is not and has never been glamorous. Instead it is filled with mud, dirt, sand, MRE that no sane person would actually ask for, short naps with bullets literally flying over your head, pillows that you then put on your head as a helmet, and the day-to-day uncertainty of war. Do all soldiers go through this? Probably not. But those on the front line that can’t see their small child born trade for this.
80-90% of marriages in special operations divorce. You are more likely to divorce if you marry while in special operations, than you are to get killed. Imagine. Many of the special operations soldiers that I know refuse to get married. Not because they don’t want love, not because they are cynical or deny needing someone to come home to, but because they acknowledge first and foremost that for a spouse of a special operations warrior, life can be incredibly hard. It can be unfair, lonely, scary, and deep down depressing. It is not for the faint of heart and it is not for the average.
I forget to thank soldiers for all the freedoms that they have guaranteed I can have. I forget every time I lay my head down that I can sleep in relatively safety because they are fighting battles that I know nothing about. I forget that my children can grow up to be what they dream because I man who I have never met, and probably will never meet stands on a wall and puts his life in danger.
There is no way to romantize that truth. We do, in order to cope with the realities; but the truth is war is ugly. It is a mix of unimaginable terror, mirrored wounds, and a prison of horror that you can not walk away from. It is a fine red line, and a shadow that no one will see. It is a bullet that no one else can taste, and it is an honor that will never be celebrated. It is a nightmare that no one will ever see.
A soldier’s reality cannot be shared on the evening news, or in video games of children. A soldier’s reality is first and foremost, the darkest and most brutal of human truths. It is war, it is battle, it is a fight, and it is never-ending.
My friend who had her child all alone is thankful this morning that she has a piece of her husband to hold onto. She is thankful that God gave her a tangible gift that celebrates their relationship and their love. Her husband hasn’t seen his child, has gotten close enough to a computer to upload a picture of his child. He doesn’t yet know if he has a boy or a girl, one or two. He doesn’t know if his child survived labor or if there is pain or joy to live. He is in some mountain doing his job, dealing with the realities of the choices he made.
If you knew him you would know that he is not bitter right now. He is excited about going home to meet his baby. He doesn’t resent the job he has to do, rather he simply holds onto the precious seconds when he can be close to his family. He is amazingly resilient, and one of the most down to earth guys I have ever had the pleasure to know. He often talks about his choice to go into the miliary, not for duty, not for pride, but out of a love.
We forget that our freedom is not free. We forget the sacrifices our soldiers make so that we can sleep at night. We rarely picture in our minds the midnight raids, and the dawn ops because to do so would bring forth emotions that are best left to rest. We never wonder if the soldier walking on that wall, back and forth, ever thinks of home. We never wonder if he has a meal he can’t wait for his mother to cook; and we never wonder if he spends his nights occasionally looking at the stars and saying a silent prayer.
We don’t know, us civs, what life in the miliary is truly like. We may read about it, see it in movies, and even hear about it from our friends. But until you walk into a hospital all alone, for one of the greatest days of your lives, I don’t know that anyone can truly appreciate the sacrifice for something so nebulous, and so undefined, as freedom.